By Marty Brochstein, Senior Vice President, Industry Relations and Information for the International Licensing Industry Merchandisers’ Association (LIMA)
We’re well into the warm afterglow of the Summer Olympics, with a panoply of U.S. medal winners basking in the adulation. For some of those stars, there will be a chance to convert the high profile and good feelings they’ve generated into cash and marketing clout. (Some, though, will be limited if they currently compete or plan to compete on the collegiate level due to NCAA eligibility restrictions.)
In most cases, these financial opportunities will come via endorsements, corporate appearances and motivational speeches. After all, NBC and the rest of the media spent the better part of a month (including the run-up to the Games) telling us the backstories of athletes in sports that many of us pay attention to only once every four years or so. A well-spoken athlete with a unique or inspirational tale to tell about the lonely perseverance they needed to succeed is an attractive commodity for corporate and other groups.
In a few very rare instances, these athletes can turn themselves into “brands.” There are seemingly as many definitions of the word “brand” as there were gold medals handed out in Rio, but one that I’ve always liked is “a promise of performance.” Consumers gravitate to a label – be it Ralph Lauren, Mr. Clean, Electrolux, Mercedes-Benz, Apple or any other – because they’re confident that the product bearing the name will “perform” as expected. (“Performance” may, of course, be interpreted in many ways; somebody may buy a Mercedes mostly because of how they think others will perceive them – also a performance attribute – rather than because it’s a well-made car.)
The challenge that most of the best-known and admired medal winners face in converting their appeal into product licensing isn’t so much their achievement, but the nature of their sport. There’s very little equipment involved in running, jumping, tumbling and swimming.
The most obvious opportunities for the highest profile Olympians would be the creation of a signature line of specialty athletic wear under the umbrella of a larger entity, much as the Michael Jordan brand was built within Nike. For gymnasts, Simone Biles and Aly Raisman, could the answer be in a signature gymnastics-wear collection? And for swimmer Katie Ledecky, perhaps it’s a swimsuit and training apparel line?
One who has already gone that way is uber-Olympian Michael Phelps, who with coach Bob Bowman last year launched the MP Michael Phelps line of swimwear, goggles and training equipment with manufacturer Aqua Sphere. The MP logo was prominent on Phelps’ racing suit and race cap during the Olympics swimming competition.
Beyond fitness apparel and equipment specific to their sport, the prominent Olympians could conceivably branch into health products, including food, vitamins and supplements.
But let’s also remember that there are athletic stars who over time transcended their narrow identification with their particular sport. Rene Lacoste, for example, was a French tennis star in the 1920s, known as Le Crocodile, and his name has for years adorned a luxe apparel collection with the famous crocodile emblem.
Similarly, Arnold Palmer is a golf immortal, but his apparel line around the world has stretched far beyond golf wear; his brand also has famously been attached to the iced-tea-and-lemonade concoction.
Noted hockey great Tim Horton’s name today is as well known for his ubiquitous coffee-and-bakery shops in Canada – and in many U.S. cities – as for his exploits on the ice.
Opportunities, whether obvious or not so apparent, are most definitely out there for some of our most noted Olympians. So, let the financial games begin…!